Home Jobs & Education What is the Average Petroleum Engineer Salary?

Dear job seeker, you are about to read a very interesting article that will most likely make you appreciate more an industry that not many people know much about! If you are interested in pursuing a career in petroleum engineering, you’ll find that such careers are among the highest paid jobs in the US. The average petroleum engineer salary is $99,343 as for May 2015, but these professionals can reach a total annual pay of $194,836 (including tips, bonus, profit sharing and overtime). Learn more about petroleum engineer salaries, job requirements and influential factors affecting employment in the field in the sections below.

senior petroleum engineer

Senior Petroleum Engineer

The Average Petroleum Engineer Salary in the US

There is no mystery about how much petroleum engineers earn nowadays. According to employment and wage estimates conducted by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, these professionals earned a median annual salary of $130,280 in May 2012. A more recent survey created by PayScale shows that the average petroleum engineer salary is very close of exceeding six figures, reaching more than $99K per year.

Now, you may ask yourself why salaries have dropped that much in less than 3 years. Well, that is a different story you might have read about in the papers or any type of mass media and it’s all about the oil price falling, folks. The annual earnings of these professionals currently range between $66K and $195K depending on years of experience, level of individual performance, industry and location. On top of this there are also benefits like medical and dental coverage.

What Does a Petroleum Engineer Do?

Petroleum engineers work in the oil and gas industry and are responsible for designing methods of extracting oil and gas from various depths below the earth’s surface.

They are in charge of finding optimal ways to improve oil & gas production. Their job is also to develop new and safe methods and techniques of extracting oil and gas from older wells.

Some petroleum engineering jobs are office-based, while others involve working in the field: at drilling rigs or well sites, either onshore or offshore. While other professionals are dedicated to research, working in universities and colleges.

What are the Main Tasks of a Petroleum Engineer?

Petroleum engineering is a vast domain where these professionals, subjected to their field of expertise, are responsible of all aspects of oil & gas production, from upstream to downstream, as follows: designing & delivering the prospecting, drilling, pumping & completion operations; optimize the oil production and perform well services & well interventions; designing the processing equipment and oil and gas pipelines.

From a high level perspective, without getting into too much details, petroleum engineers are:

  • Designing the equipment and extracting processes so to achieve profits.
  • Developing techniques to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reservoir to either enable or improve the production.
  • Developing plans to drill in oil and gas fields or to recover the oil and gas from underground deposits.
  • Making sure that wells, well testing, and well surveys are completed and evaluated.
  • Using computer-controlled drilling or fracturing techniques.
  • Installing, operating and maintaining the oil field equipment.
  • Designing and implementing the most suitable drilling methods & all associated operations.

Types of Petroleum Engineers

There are several types of petroleum engineers. Here is a brief introduction to popular types:

Reservoir engineers determine how much oil and gas can be recovered from underground deposits.

Drilling engineers use drilling techniques, deciding on how to drill a well as optimal as possible. They need to ensure the safety and efficiency of the drilling process, while making sure the costs are not exceeding the budget.

Completions engineers are in charge with optimal ways of well designing. Their work involves knowledge of tubing, completion tools & processes, hydraulic fracturing, pressure-control methods etc

Production engineers monitor and optimize the well’s production following the drilling & completion process. Among others, they are in charge with finding ways to increase the amount of extracted resources.

Petroleum Engineer Job Requirements

Petroleum engineers are required to have a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering or in other related subjects such as mechanical or chemical engineering.

If you are looking to get a job in this field, you should know that employers value practical experience, including work experience gained, even, during internships or practical courses undertaken over university years.

Typically, there are internal trainings that every company will provide for their employees in order to make them valuable assets and develop more skills and expertise.

Education & Training

In order to become a petroleum engineer a four-year degree program has to be taken. Such programs include both classroom and field studies in engineering, geology, thermodynamics hydraulics etc.

Some petroleum engineers take a 5-year program that leads to a master’s degree. Post-graduate programs may be an advantage for professionals seeking a job in the oil & gas industry, but this king of graduate degree often helps engineers who wish to work as instructors or researchers.

Certifications & Licenses

If you live in the US and intend working in the States as a petroleum engineer, you are required to have a license. Licensed engineers are also known as professional engineers (PEs).

These are the licensure requirements in all 50 states and the District of Columbia:

  • A degree from an accredited petroleum engineering program.
  • Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam after earning your bachelor’s degree.
  • 4 years of relevant work experience.
  • Passing the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.

Normally, once you get licensed your license is recognized from one state to another. However, there might be states that require continuing training in order for you to keep your license.

Also, there are certifications provided in this field by The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). In order to achieve this certification, you need to meet a few requirements like becoming a member of the society and passing an exam.

General Skills Petroleum Engineers Have in Their CVs

  • Analytical Skills

Petroleum engineers are expected to be good at planning and anticipating possible problems or complications.

  • Creative Skills

Creativity is another quality professionals in this field have as they are designing and implementing new methods of oil and gas extraction.

  • Technical Skills

Petroleum engineers need to have well-developed technical competences, especially those working in the field.

  • Problem-solving skills

Identifying and solving problems is crucial for petroleum engineers. Not only they have to anticipate potential issues, but also react as pragmatically as possible in case something wrong occurs.

Work Hours

Typically, petroleum engineers work on a full time basis. However, professionals who perform their job at drilling/well sites normally work in a rotation that can vary from 84 hours to weeks.

Work Environment

The typical work settings for petroleum engineers are the oil & gas companies and drilling sites. Some work in offices, other in the field, while there are professionals who choose to work at universities or research laboratories.

Most petroleum engineers work in different countries around the world and interact with a variety of professionals and technicians with diverse backgrounds.

Offshore Platforms

Offshore Platforms

According to the US BLS, the industries that record the highest number of jobs in petroleum engineering in 2012 were:

  • Oil and gas extraction  53%
  • Support mining activitie   14%
  • Architectural, engineering, and related services  7%
  • Petroleum and coal products manufacturing  6%
  • Management of companies and enterprises    6%

Petroleum Engineer Salary by Industry

Industry Concentration of Jobs Hourly Pay Rate Annual Average Petroleum Engineer Salary
Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services not estimated $110.69 $230,230
Management of Companies and Enterprises 3,250 $82.25 $171,080
Oil and Gas Extraction 15,310 $75.86 $157,790
Pipeline Transportation of Natural Gas 720 $74.73 $155,450
Other Financial Investment Activities 60 $74.22 $154,380

Among top paying employers, we should mention big companies like Chevron Corporation, BHP Billiton, Anadarko Petroleum Corp, Shell Oil Company, ConocoPhillips Company, and Schlumberger. Most generous salaries are offered by BHP Billiton, where the average salary for petroleum engineers is $163K per year, followed by Anadarko Petroleum Corp with salaries around 158K, and Schlumberger with paychecks of $138K.

According to the PayScale petroleum engineer salary survey, smaller paychecks can be found at British Petroleum, where the average petroleum engineer salary is $105K, as well as at ExxonMobil Corporation and Baker Hughes. However, there are professional employed by these companies earning more than $300K annually.

As regards to the factors affecting how much petroleum engineers bring home every year, the geographical location is also important. Good news is that Texas is both the state with highest concentration of jobs in the oil & gas industry and best paying state for this occupation. Let’s have a look at other top paying locations across the US.

Petroleum Engineer Salary by State

State Concentration of Jobs Hourly Pay Rate Annual Average Petroleum Engineer Salary
Texas 17,910 $76.33 $158,770
Virginia 940 $75.19 $156,390
New Jersey 220 $74.73 $155,450
Alaska 770 $73.69 $153,280
Colorado 1,850 $73.06 $151,960

Based on BLS employment estimates for petroleum engineer salary across the US, these are the top paying metropolitan areas for this field:

Metropolitan area Concentration of Jobs Hourly Pay Rate Annual Average Petroleum Engineer Salary
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 11,570 $80.91 $168,280
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Division 740 $79.75 $165,880
Jackson, MS 90 $78.23 $162,720
Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 360 $77.97 $162,180
Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 1,450 $77.37 $160,940
Anchorage, AK 480 $76.00 $158,080
Greeley, CO not estimated $75.35 $156,720
Midland, TX 1,580 $74.33 $154,620
Oklahoma City, OK 1,440 $74.24 $154,420
Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX Metropolitan Division 960 $73.56 $153,000

Job Prospects 2012 – 2022

The future looked bright for petroleum engineers in 2012, when a growth of 26 percent was prospected by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for the next 10 years. Unfortunately, oil prices are the dominant factor determining the level of employment and payment for this occupation.

As long as oil prices are high, new engineers will be needed to work for this massive industry. However, oil companies find it more convenient to hire people on an as-needed basis which makes job prospects for this sector favorable on one hand, but instable, on the other.

Experienced petroleum engineers are luckier than professionals at the beginning of their career, as they can team up and develop their own companies for providing services to oil and gas producers.

Quick Petroleum Engineer Job Facts

Annual Average Petroleum Engineer Salary as for May 2015  $99,343
Petroleum Engineering Starting Salary $96K
Mid-level Career Petroleum Engineer Salary $120K
Experienced Petroleum Engineer Salary $152
Late-career Petroleum Engineer Salary $201
Education Requirements Bachelor’s Degree (minimum)Master’s Degree (optional)
Petroleum Engineering Training Internal Trainings Provided by Employing Companies
Certifications & Licenses License in the state of practiceCertification issued by SPE
Work Environment  Oil & Gas CompaniesDrilling SitesDrilling PlatformsDrilling ShipsOil & Gas Related Services
Best Paying Employer  BHP Billiton – $163K (median salary)
Best Paying Metropolitan Area Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX – $168K
Lowest Paying Market Lafayette, LA – $106K
Job Prospects 2012 – 2022  26% employment growth expected until 2022
Work Schedule Full time/ on a rotation

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Erika Schwartz

Dear reader, my name is Erika and I am an actress, arts teacher and film analyst. I studied theatre and film for over four years, and changed more than 15 part-time jobs. What can I say? It is a tough industry. I love dance, especially tango, music, and basically anything art-related. I also enjoy writing about the captivating and dynamic world of entertainment. When I work, I seek the perfect balance between usefulness and beauty. I like to describe myself as the most optimistic person alive.


  1. A quick note: There are Engineers that are not certified/licensed in US but do the same job and companies have made up titles (i.e. Technical Professional, etc.) with the same job description. Good article!

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